Approach to the Diagnostic Workup and Management of Small Bowel Lesions at a Tertiary Care Center

J Gastrointest Surg. 2018 Jun;22(6):1034-1042. doi: 10.1007/s11605-018-3668-2. Epub 2018 Jan 25.


Background: Small bowel lesions (SBL) are rare, representing diagnostic and management challenges. The purpose of this cross-sectional study was to evaluate diagnostic modalities used and management practices of patients with SBL at an advanced endoscopic referral center.

Methods: We analyzed patients undergoing surgical management for SBL from 2005 to 2015 at a single tertiary care center. Patients were stratified into gastrointestinal bleed/anemia (GIBA) or obstruction/pain (OP).

Results: One hundred and twelve patients underwent surgery after presenting with either GIBA (n = 67) or OP (n = 45). The mean age of our study population was 61.8 years and 45% were women. Patients with GIBA were more likely to have chronic or acute-on-chronic symptoms (100% vs 67%) and more often referred from outside hospitals (82 vs. 44%) (p < 0.01). The most common preoperative imaging modalities were video capsule endoscopy (VCE) (96%) for GIBA and computer tomography CT (78%) for OP. Findings on VCE and CT were most frequently concordant with operative findings in GIBA (67%) and OP (54%) patients, respectively. Intraoperatively, visual inspection or palpation of the bowel successfully identified lesions in 71% of patients. When performed in GIBA (n = 26), intraoperative enteroscopy (IE) confirmed or identified lesions in 69% of patients. Almost all (90%) GIBA patients underwent small bowel resections; most were laparoscopic-assisted (93%). Among patients with OP, 58% had a small bowel resection and the majority (81%) were laparoscopic-assisted. Surgical exploration failed to identify lesions in 10% of GIBA patients and 24% of OP patients. Among patients who underwent resections, 20% of GIBA patients had recurrent symptoms compared with 13% of OP patients.

Conclusion: Management and identification of SBL is governed by presenting symptomatology. Optimal management includes VCE and IE for GIBA and CT scans for OP patients. Comprehensive evaluation may require referral to specialized centers.

Keywords: Gastrointestinal bleed; Minimally-invasive surgery; Small bowel.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / diagnostic imaging
  • Abdominal Pain / etiology*
  • Abdominal Pain / surgery
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anemia / etiology
  • Capsule Endoscopy
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Endoscopy, Gastrointestinal
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage / diagnostic imaging
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage / etiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage / surgery
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Intestinal Diseases / etiology*
  • Intestinal Diseases / surgery
  • Intestinal Obstruction / diagnostic imaging
  • Intestinal Obstruction / etiology*
  • Intestinal Obstruction / surgery
  • Intestine, Small / diagnostic imaging
  • Intestine, Small / surgery
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Recurrence
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Tertiary Care Centers
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed